The title, Shush! refers to the word most necessary for survival in the virulent anti- Semitic Stalinist Soviet Union. We continue to hear the warnings, “Don’t use your Jewish name in public,” “Don’t speak a word of Yiddish,” “Don’t speak of your murdered relatives,” intoned throughout the writer’s childhood.
As Draitser and his family, who have survived the unimaginable horror of Hitler, are forced to survive as Jews in the new nightmare under Stalin, they must all adapt to a new set of state rules, needing to keep secret the father’s occupation as a (wage-earning) house painter, at the same time that their son is subjected to ongoing bullying attacks as a young child, and when older, to the continuing tyranny of the party, becoming to his parents’ horror a “Young Communist Leaguer,” who will shy away from anything that identifies him as a Jew, even when at home.
It will not be until forty years later that Draitser will discover the mind-numbing truths of the loss of life of close members of his family beginning with the early years of the 20th century when Ukrainian pogroms claimed their lives to the shattered remnants of the hideous reigns of Hitler and Stalin. His ironically caustic comment about a lost young aunt who failed to leave Europe when some of his family had succeeded, “She stayed behind; her…tombstone was too heavy for her to lift,” is not lost on us.
Draitser, a respected writer and professor of Russian at Hunter College in New York City, can only now, with wrenching difficulty, acknowledge that “the past must never be discarded from our memory.” He is grateful to be ready even at this late date to raise his voice and declare himself a Jew.
Ironically it is we as readers who are now to be the benefactors again and again from the advancing ages of the Jewish survivors of many of last millennium’s tragic and hideous history as they, mindful of the menacing passage of time, are now reaching for the pen, often at the risk of great pain to themselves while time permits, in order to leave for us their stories.